Friday, May 7, 2010

I'm happy in Arkansas

When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait to leave Arkansas and go to big places with big cities, traffic, and noise. I thought that everything that was worth seeing had to be away from where I was. Now that I have a child of my own, I am starting to realize how stupid I was.
I remember when they put a stoplight in our town. It is still the only stoplight we have, and one of the main ways in which to give directions around here. “When you get to THE stoplight, turn left.” “You know where the stoplight is? Well it’s a quarter of a mile past the stoplight.” Before there was a stoplight, there was a yellow blinking light that told people it was a four-way intersection.
I remember that when I was a child, I knew that anyone I saw in the bait and tackle store would probably know my mom and dad. Everyone greeted my parents, or my parents greeted them. “Hey Mark, how ya been?” “Hey feller, whatcha know good?” I grew up surrounded by extended kinfolk as well as my nuclear family. My mom didn’t really need me to hold her hand in the store, or for me to be in sight at all times. When I was growing up, I didn’t know a thing about kids being snatched away from their parents in public places. Because in almost every public place I went, everyone knew who I was. It was the same for other children. My kindergarten classmates where referred to as “So and so’s young ‘un.”
I spent my early childhood in a small house with a yard, surrounded by woods. Getting to our house meant going down a dirt road. My nightlight was a jar of lightning bugs I had caught earlier that evening, and I cherished it. Because I knew in the morning my mother would make me let them go and I’d have to catch a whole new set the following evening. I chased frogs and lizards around the porch, and explored the nearby woods. My sister showed me a creek that, to us, was a hidden oasis unveiled before our eyes. My home was a fairy tale land, full of unspoiled natural adventures.
When I stepped away from the front door of my parent’s home, I was a Choctaw warrior, living off the land. I made forts and planted seeds. I drank the sweet nectar of honeysuckle, and ate the blackberries straight from the briar. I engineered spindly little bows and bent arrows from sticks and grass. I danced in the summer rain. And if I was wearing Oshkosh overalls and jelly sandals, it was inconsequential to me. I remember the mimosa trees, and how they looked like deep jungle palms to me, especially when their feathery pink flowers were in bloom. I remember the azaleas I referred to as the Hawaiian flowers, because they looked like the pretty flowers you always saw behind the ears of Hawaiian girls in movies. I remember waiting for the jonquils to spring into bloom for Easter bouquets that would be handled till wilting.
I grew up on a diet of green beans, fried potatoes, pork chops, and iced teas. I shelled purple hull peas with my grandmother, and delighted in the violet shade my fingers carried for hours afterward. I found that shucking corn was not nearly as fun. I spent more than one day barefoot in dry dirt gardens picking squash and cucumber with my grandmother. I always thought her hands were beautiful. My parents took me to the lake during the summer, and I found a pirate’s treasure in tiny clam shells on Lake DeGray. My father would take me to the river to look for arrowheads, and when I caught my first sun perch I was the proudest little girl to walk the earth. My great grandfather would take me on walks, and I would pick every wild flower I could find. My mother called them weeds, but I assured her they were not, because they were pretty. There was an abandoned house full of foxes, and my grandmother would take my sister and I on bicycle rides so we could try and see them peeking out. My great grandmother would make chocolate pie and that was everyone’s favorite. No one could ever make a pie as good as she did.
I had an immense rock collection which I found in my own backyard, which was mainly made up of different types of quartz crystals. Living in Arkansas I saw so many types of lizards, snakes, and frogs, that when my mother bought a book to identify them, it became my own personal guide for entertainment. I would find a frog and put it in a jar until I was sure what kind of frog it was. Then I would let it go and search for something else.
I’m sure that people who’ve grown up in a big city know a lot more than me about some things- for instance, I never learned how to parallel park. But living in my small rural town, I gathered an interest in biology, geology, archeology, and an appreciation of history that I might not have found otherwise. I learned basic survival skills, like what natural plants are edible, what reptiles and plants are poisonous, and how to fish with a piece of Arkansas bamboo cane as well as a fishing rod. I used my imagination and played in the sun and rain, instead of playing gameboy ds. I learned kindness to strangers, instead of fear and cynicism for others.
How could I ask for more for my child?

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